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The Monster’s Daughter by Michelle Pretorius

I was sent a copy of this by the publishers Melville House, and I agreed to review it having already said that historical fiction isn’t really my thing. This however sounded interesting as it was described as a historical thriller set in South Africa which is a country that has always intrigued me.

The Monster’s Daughter is the debut novel by Michelle Pretorius. The novel is a story in three parts. It’s a thriller, a historical novel and also a bit science fiction. It starts in 2010 when we are introduced to Alet, a disgraced police constable who has been reassigned to the small town of Unie. Here she discovers the body of a woman burned beyond all recognition. Her investigations soon lead her to believe there is a serial killer stalking women.  Alongside this murder mystery we are treated to a potted history of the country’s violent past, starting in 1901 at the height of the Boer war. Linking these two elements are Tessa and Benjamin who were in a British concentration camp where a doctor was conducting some grim experiments.  

This was not an easy read. There were a lot of characters to keep track of, and the jumping around of the timelines meant that it was sometimes hard to keep up with the story. However considering it included both science fiction and historical elements, two things I’m not a huge fan of in my crime novels, this was completely worth the effort.

This was a superb novel. The writing was incredibly evocative and upsetting at times. I had a very basic knowledge of South African history and found this part of the novel absolutely fascinating. The violence and hatred jumped out of the page as we travelled from the Boer War, through Apartheid to the present day. The landscape and the heat, alongside the tensions of the time were evident, all the while with the back drop of a modern day murder investigation.

The characters themselves, whilst perfectly well rounded, for me did come secondary to the historical elements. The story was interesting and I think just the modern day part on its own would have been a decent story, yet the rest of elements were really what made this an absolute stand out book.

Sometimes it is good to read something out of your usual type and The Monster’s Daughter was definitely one of those times.

 

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He Said, She Said by Erin Kelly – a review

I was lucky enough to receive a copy of this via netgalley.

He Said, She Said focuses on Laura and her husband Kit. They are eclipse chasers, so basically they go round the world watching total eclipses. On one of these trips when they first meet, Laura sees what she presumes is a rape. Her and Kit are then called as witnesses, to testify against Jamie the perpetrator. He says that the sex was consensual, but Beth the victim states that it was rape. It’s his word against hers.  15 years later and Kit and Laura are in hiding. They are no longer friends with Beth, having changed their names and now live practically ‘off the grid’. However it’s clear that when Beth tracks them down, things are not going to end well.

I really enjoyed this book. It is told mainly from the viewpoint of Laura and switches between past and present easily. There were lots of descriptions of eclipses and weather but I found that interesting and felt it added to the stories atmosphere. This was not a fast paced novel but was more of a gentle story that unfolded whilst keeping the tension high. There were lots of twists and turns that kept my interest, and you were never quite sure who was telling the truth.

I did find both Kit and Laura a little annoying, clearly they were going to have secrets, all good characters in novels do. Yet you would think that for people in hiding they would be more inclined to be open with each other. However the story itself is good so I could overlook this and the ending was truly a surprise.

Erin Kelly is an author who manages to take a relatively mundane setting and turn it into something different. This isn’t a book that will necessary grab you by the throat straight away but it is one that after I finished kept me thinking. I have read a number of Erin Kelly’s books and would highly recommend them all.

 

 

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Here and Gone by Haylen Beck – a review

I was given a copy of this via netgalley, and have to admit it did kind of fall off my reading radar until very recently.

Here and Gone by Haylen Beck starts with Audra and her two children driving across Arizona, in an attempt to flee her abusive husband. When she gets stopped by the police she is clearly nervous about being caught. However she soon realises that she is in more trouble than she could possibly have dreamt of.

This was an interesting novel that certainly kept my attention. However I must admit I didn’t think it was the most original storyline. Without wishing to give away too much information the story itself was relatively predictable, the motives behind the crime will probably be obvious to most avid crime fiction fans early on. However despite that, this book was an absolute page turner.

Books are often described as ‘roller coasters’ and without wishing to sound clichéd this is a perfect description for this novel. As soon as the police stop Audra you know that bad things are going to happen, and when they do the reactions of the characters will have you on the ‘edge of your seat’.

Cliches aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The writing is superb and I really liked the way that this was a story that relied on good writing to push it along, not just throwing in twists and turns at every moment. The descriptions of the characters and the emotions they are going through are gripping. The overall premise is about a woman and her fierce desire to protect her children, no matter the danger to herself. The sheer determination of Audra will keep you turning the pages.

To me this felt different from a lot of novels written about women protecting their children. Audra was a person who teamed up with a man. Yet she didn’t expect him to rescue her or her children, she was going to do that herself.  There is violence and some disturbing details in this story, but it is all relevant to setting the atmosphere.

Haylen Beck is the pen name of Stuart Neville, yet it is only the name that has changed not the superb writing. This was a great, if disturbing read that I’m glad came back onto my radar.

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Spring Reads Guest Post – Matthew Redford

Now regular readers of my blog will be familiar with the hilarious world of Food Sapiens and our main carrot DI Wortel. Remember the case of the dead mince spy? For those of you who have no idea what I’m on about you can find out more here (Addicted to death by Matthew Redford – a reviewWho killed the Mince Spy BLOG TOUR – Guest post

Well as part of the Spring Reads 2017 I am delighted to welcome back Matthew Redford, author of Addicted to Death, which tops the list of funniest crime novel ever in my opinion. I was keen to find out more about the food sapiens. So I’ll hand you over to Matthew.

Thank you so much for letting me write a short piece for the readers of your blog. I have been asked to write on the subject of how I came up with my characters which I think is a really interesting question, because after all, how many Food Sapiens detectives do you really know about?

I’m sensing that I may have lost you there. Food Sapiens. Walking, talking, breathing food items who are integrated and part of our society. Still not with me? Check out the Genetically Modified Food Sapiens Act 1955 and you’ll find out that Food Sapiens were finally released from captivity after initially being held by Government scientists who discovered that genetically modified food items developed their own conscious. But once the Government realised they had above average intelligence and could set up business and of course, pay taxes, then their release was inevitable.

And over the years Food Sapiens have integrated fully into everyday life, so much so that they have blended in without anyone realising. And this is why I think it’s so interesting that I am often asked by people how I came up with my characters. The honest answer is that I didn’t create them, they actually exist, and I am writing about real life events. Now for anybody that has read ‘Addicted to Death’, or ‘Who Killed the Mince Spy?’ you might that hard to believe, but I guarantee that I speak the truth. In Addicted to Death, poor Benedict and Darcy Blacktail, two eggs very much in love, were brutally murdered by a hitman with a large metal spoon, (stop sniggAddicted to Deathering at the back, it’s no yolk), while a Christmas drama unfolded in Who Killed the Mince Spy? as an MI GasMark5 secret agent was deliberately over baked and charred. That was such a difficult case for the Food Related Crime Team as the death of the mince spy, while horrific, smelt so good.

So let me take a few moments to introduce you to some of the lead Food Sapiens characters:

Detective Inspector Willie Wortel – the Head of the Food Related Crime Team and the leading Food Sapiens detective of his generation, DI Willie Wortel, carrot, leads the fight against food crime. Renowned for his sharp mind, his bravery and courage, Wortel has tackled the psychopath Sammy the Shrimp, foiled the evil MadCow McBeef and managed to find work suits that somehow complement his tall, spiky green hair.

Oranges and Lemons – two fruit officers who work with DI Wortel. I would have said they support, help and assist Wortel but that would be a lie. Probably better to use words like torment, hinder, annoy…but, and this is just my opinion, I think he quite likes having them around really. One word of warning however. If you do bump into them and start chatting, please don’t ask them who borrowed five farthings because you might never get away.

MadCow McBeef – evil genius and nemesis of Wortel. Currently incarcerated at the Farmer Giles Mental Institution, but under close surveillance at all times. Avoid at all costs. Enough said.

USA President Rump Steak – a surprise election winner who some might say should be incarcerated alongside MadCow McBeef, but who nonetheless, is under close surveillance at all times. Avoid at all costs. Enough said.

Curly Kale Minogue – one of my favourite singers also happens to be a Food Sapiens icon. With her breakthrough song ‘I should be so leeky’ and the disco classic ‘Can’t get you out of my bread’ she is often top of the charts battling it out with Ham Smith and CornFed Sheeren.

Russell Toastie – now I need to be completely professional here when describing this actor. I need to make sure that I let you know I respect his acting ability and what I am about to say has nothing to do with his good looks and physique…hubba hubba hubba…

So that is a small insight into the world of Food Sapiens, who are not made up characters, but real life people who go about their daily business just like you and me. There are good Food sapiens and those who sometimes take a criminal turn. But we can rest assured for while we have Detective Inspector Willie Wortel, we can sleep safely tonight.

Thank you very much Matthew, I am very much looking forward to reading more about Food sapiens and finding out what DI Willie Wortel is up to.

 

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Local Girl Missing by Claire Douglas – a review

I was given a copy of this via netgalley.

Local Girl Missing begins with Frankie returning to her home town, after the discovery of human remains. It is assumed that the remains belong to her best friend Sophie who disappeared one night when they were both just teenagers. Sophie’s brother had called Frankie and asked her to return to the town to help try and work out what had happened to his Sister. Frankie is not happy about returning but feels she owes it to her friend. She soon starts to discover that everyone in the town seems to have secrets and Frankie is no longer sure who to trust.

This was quite a good easy read. The story is told from two different viewpoints. We hear from a present day Frankie who is having a conversation with an imaginary Sophie. This gives the reader an incredible feel of Frankie’s paranoia and sense of isolation. We also get the impression that she is hiding something regarding her family. The other viewpoint is that of Sophie. We get to hear from her in the form of her diary which she wrote in the lead up to her disappearance. Gradually the two viewpoints reveal the truth of what happened to Sophie, and to Frankie.

This was a good story that kept me interested. I did find the crime reveal a little predictable, however that didn’t actually detract from my enjoyment. The writing was good and I felt that the two main characters had very distinct voices. Some of Frankie’s story was a little repetitive which adds to the feel that she isn’t quite keeping herself together. Sophie’s voice is that of a young teenager, with all the angst and fluctuations that come in that time between child and grown up. This does give the slight impression of it being a teenage novel, as there are lots of talk about boys and parties but that is not necessarily a bad thing.

I have to say I didn’t really care about Frankie, or any of the things that were happening to her. She was rather annoying and very self involved, which is of course exactly how she is meant to come across. I did however like the character of Sophie and you do care about what happened to her, although the final twist at the end of the book was a little unbelievable.

Overall I did enjoy this story. It probably wasn’t as dark as my preferred reads, but it is a good story that was a quick easy read.

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A game for all the family

On Wednesday it was national Winnie the Pooh day. Winnie the Pooh has always been one of my favourite children’s characters. However unfortunately my celebration of this national day didn’t include a nice cuddly bear, I had an encounter with a completely different type of poo.

I like the outdoors. Other than reading, most of my pastimes are based outside. I go horse riding, and jogging in the great outdoors, and I try and go for a walk every lunchtime. I’m lucky in that I work near a racecourse so there is always somewhere nice and green to have a wander round.

I was enjoying one of these lunchtime walks on Wednesday, until the nice quiet contemplation of nature was rudely interrupted – by a huge seagull poo landing on my head. Sadly this isn’t the first time this has happened to me, in fact it’s starting to become a bit of a habit. Most people go to Scarborough and their only concern is whether the seagulls are going to steal their chips. I spend the time looking upwards trying to avoid walking under any suspicious looking gulls flying overhead.

Why don’t more people get pooed on by birds? It doesn’t seem to happen to other people. You never read in a book about so and so finding a body covered in bird poo. DS Roy Grace is never casually walking along Brighton sea front catching criminals only to have to stop to wipe bird poo off his head. Even Tippi Hedron was bird poo free despite having hundreds of birds trying to kill her. You would think it would be a common occurrence really bearing in mind the numbers of bird around. Yet it seems to be only me that gets targeted. I think it is some kind of game the birds all play. There is probably some kind of national league that the birds join. They get given a score card when they sign up and it has a big picture of me on it. Extra points every time they get a strike.

Apparently it is meant to be good luck but that is a load of nonsense if you ask me. All it means in reality is you have to wash your hair and/or jacket depending on the site of the aforementioned strike. I think it may be wise to give up my delusions of being a country girl. Next year I am just going to stay inside and read Winnie the Pooh to celebrate rather than venture outside.

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The Dry by Jane Harper -a review

Whilst on my recent jaunts, I had a lot of time on planes to catch up with some of my recent netgalley acquisitions. The Dry by Jane Harper was one of those.

The Dry is set in a small town in Australia. The Hadler family are dead and it looks like a case of murder/suicide. Aaron Falk returns to his home town after an absence of 20 years in order to attend the funeral of his school friend Luke Hadler. Luke is thought to have killed his family before turning the gun on himself. Aaron is not convinced that the Luke he used to know would have killed his wife and child. Originally intending to just stay for the funeral he soon gets embroiled in the investigation into the deaths. Alongside this, Aaron is also having to deal with the fact that the town still hasn’t forgotten a terrible incident that they believe Aaron and his friend Luke were involved in. It was this incident that meant he had had to flee the town with his Dad 20 years earlier.

This is the debut novel by author Jane Harper, and according to the publisher this is meant to be ‘one of the most anticipated novels of 2017’ I can certainly see why.

The Dry was a novel that draws you in slowly, but soon hooks you in completely. It is not a fast paced novel, but it is incredibly atmospheric. The setting was the part that really made this novel stand out for me. You get the impression of a small town that gives it a really claustrophobic feeling . The slow build up of the story is mirrored by the ongoing threat of drought and fire. As the lack of rain causes tensions in the town to rise, the story builds towards the final reveal.

The characters were interesting, although I was a bit unsure whether I actually liked Aaron or not. Other than what we find out about his childhood there didn’t seem to be a lot to his character although this adds to the small town atmosphere. The story of what happened twenty years before is told in flashback. I felt that these were easy to keep track of even on a kindle when flicking back and forwards isn’t as easy as with a paper version. This was testament to how good the writing in this novel was.

This was a good, if very sad, story that kept me guessing throughout and the final reveal was a bit of a shock. I would recommend The Dry, and it is a story that will stay with you after its over.

(I also got home to realise I already had a hard copy of the novel acquired from the Festival which if I had known would have obviously been a sign of a good read to come!)

 

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